Prepare yourself for the majesty and grandeur of… PURPLE YODA!  Your Major Spoilers (Retro) Review of Stan Lee Presents The Marvel Comics Illustrated Version Of The Empire Strikes Back awaits!


Writer: Archie Goodwin
Penciler: Al Williamson/Carlos Garzon/Rick Veitch
Inker: Al Williamson/Carlos Garzon
Colorist: Glynis Wein
Letterer: Rick Veitch
Editor: Archie Goodwin
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: $2.50
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $28.00

Previously in The Marvel Comics Illustrated Version Of The Empire Strikes BackSo, it’s a pretty good bet than most everyone reading this knows who Luke Skywalker is, how he came to oppose the evil Empire and battle the armored enforcer thereof, one Darth Vader.  So. instead, let’s talk about movie novelizations.  Before the advent of VHS or DVD, fans of movies like Star Wars couldn’t buy their own copy, so instead they could buy novelizations and tie-in books.  Since the “NO SPOILERS!” mindset wasn’t yet a thing, those novels were often on the stands BEFORE the film was in theatres, which occasionally meant spoilers.  If you were to have purchased this paperback book back in 1980, you’d have been spoilered on the big twist ending a couple of weeks early.  But, since comics require more lead time, you would also have missed the iconic “I know” moment from Han Solo, which wasn’t in the script Marvel was given.  And, since the art team was working from earlier designs in order to get the book out on time, you would have seen a very different version of one of our favorite characters of a galaxy far, far away.  The differences come when Luke and Artoo-Deetoo arrive on Dagobah.

Full disclosure: There is a lot of misinformation about this book and the images therein.  Many online sources claim that “Marvel Yoda” appears in Marvel’s Star Wars #42 and #43, but the art was adjusted into depicting the traditional Yoda for the Treasury-Sized reprint edition.  That chronology is wrong, as the Treasury Edition of ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ was on the stands in the Spring of 1980, while Star Wars #42 didn’t arrive until December of that year.  Moreover, every copy of Marvel Super Special #16 that I can find also features regular Yoda, redrawn by Al Williamson.  The only place that I can confirm that the purple version existed is in this incredibly awkwardly named trade paperback which, thanks to its smaller pages, has the panels of the story cut and pasted to fit the smaller format.  I’ve superimposed the original Yoda images from  from the TPB into the layouts from Star Wars #42/#43 in the interests of clarity and visibility.  As for young Skywalker, having arrived on the strange swamp planet, young would-be Jedi Luke searches for the legendary Yoda while being vexed by a strange little figure who clearly knows more than he lets on. 

Aside from looking much more elfin (and perhaps a bit more haggard?) than his actual in-movie appearance, this version of Yoda is tiny, even compared to the puppet.  He’s also much more sinister-looking than the bulbous, round-faced alien we all know and love.

Luke’s story continues very much like what we’ve seen on film for the last almost-40 years, with some of the more memorable bits of dialogue altered or missing (like Han’s remembrance of his old friend turning into confusion about the nonexistent “Lando System”) and somewhat less shirtless Luke.  And, even as wonderful an artist as Al Williamson is (and he’s one of the greats, y’all), some of the more memorable photography is also missing, such as the dramatic sequence where Luke arduously fails to move his X-wing fighter, only to Yoda move it effortlessly with the full power of The Force getting compressed into two panels.

Once again, we see how tiny this Yoda is, something that I remember noticing and wondering about when I was younger, seeming the size of a fairy in panel two.  The question of how long Luke was actually on Dagobah is still worrisome, as well, as Han and Leia make their way to Bespin and get captured by Vader in a manner of hours, while Luke’s training montage seems to cover days, if not weeks.  (Chalk it up to relativity in faster-than-light travel, I guess, though that does raise the spectre that Luke is now older than his twin sister due to relativistic speeds.  Thanks, Einstein!)  Anyway, Threepio is blown to smithereens, Lando betrays them, Boba Fett, blah blah blah fishcakes…

The shadowed Yoda in panel two there is actually unaltered from Al’s original work, and clearly bears the silhouette of super-pointy-eared elf Yoda, while the final panel tete-a-tete once again showcases how very miniscule the original Yoda design is, barely coming up to Luke’s waist while standing on a rock nearly as tall as he is.  It’s clear why that changed in the final product as, short of stop-motion, the figure isn’t really big enough to properly puppet, even for Frank Oz.  The Marvel Comics Illustrated Version Of The Empire Strikes Back is one of those comic book curiosities that is seldom seen but often talked about (and mostly inaccurately), featuring Goodwin, Williamson and Garzon bringing their high-level talents to the task of making this adaptation look effortless, earning 4.5 out of 5 stars overall.  If nothing else, now all the Spoilerites know to correct those who claim that Star Wars #42 is the original printing and that Prince isn’t the only Purple Yoda…

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A Fun Bit Of History

Puzzling, but interesting this book is. Hard to find is it also, yes.

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Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture! And a nice red uniform.

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